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What does suicide prevention mean to you? Maybe it’s something you’ve never discussed; maybe it’s something you’ve been involved in for years. Suicide prevention is a cause for everyone; it can be in homes, in towns, in schools, and simply on minds. When I first heard the term, as is the case for many other people, it was in reference to a crisis line. And yet, I came to see suicide prevention far beyond the phone lines. 

On my first day volunteering at my local suicide prevention call center, a kind older volunteer explained the value and ups and downs of working at a crisis lifeline. His last few words to me before I left impacted the rest of my time there tremendously. He quietly said, “we do what we can, but it’s the ones that wouldn’t call.” At first, that phrase felt heavy and not at all hopeful to me. Though it is still hard to swallow, the reality of suicide prevention for “the ones who wouldn’t call” is actually full of possibilities. Community-based suicide prevention focuses on the unique needs and culture of a community in order to prevent stigmas and crisis situations. Crisis resources are incredibly important, but so are the efforts of those whose goal is to prevent anyone from needing a crisis lifeline at all.

For example, a man named Jeremy Forbes gave a TED talk about suicide prevention based off of his experiences with community members being affected by stigmatization. He talked about his community of tradesmen and the idea of “tradie culture” that did not encourage people to seek help or talk about suicide, especially men who felt uncomfortable about the subject. Jeremy knew that the way to truly help the “tradies” around him was to create a culture of suicide prevention where the topic was not a taboo only to be discussed in crisis situations, but instead a conversation about well being among friends. I learned a lot from Jeremy’s talk, and it reinforced the idea that you don’t have to wait until it’s too late, or almost too late, to prevent suicide. 

I’m a part of many communities, so I’ve also learned that the stigmas and discussions at my all-girls high school are vastly different from those in my town or my family.

At my high school, my friends learned to fight against stigma and perfectionism by sharing what we called our “messiness” with each other so that we all knew we weren’t alone in having flaws or feelings. We learned not to underestimate how comforting it is to see that you’re not the only one who wants to curl up on the floor and cry. In my religious community, the phrase “god-sightings” became important to discussions and sharing hope. Now that I’ve moved into college, my floormates all brainstormed ideas on how we could keep doors symbolically open and continually check in on each other, or even just make each other smile from time to time. All I can say is that in my experience, it goes a long way to learn what your specific community can do to remind each member they are not alone. 

Be the one to reach out! Check in on your strong, quiet, close, distant, and everything-in-between friends. Because believe it or not, that is suicide prevention. Especially the act of creating a community culture where those check ins are seen as welcome, encouraged, and normal.

If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7/365 at 988. You are never alone.